“Deluge” of information makes it difficult for social media users to recognize true and false statements

Mark Zuckerberg argues that more information reaching more people enhances democracy. But, as the adage goes, quantity does not equal quality.

Source: Facebook Built Its Vision of Democracy on Bad Math | WIRED

The linked article says social media users are under a deluge of information overload – there is now so much information in our news feeds – much of it fake or false – that we are unable to distinguish between the real and the false.

This concept also applies to comments at the end of online newspaper articles where anyone can write what they want, even if untrue. To illustrate, our local paper had an item somewhat related to the topic of climate change. A commenter provided the (logical fallacy) argument that since sea levels were 400 feet lower 15,000 years ago, we had best be worried! That sounds like a compelling argument – until you learn of the context.

Most such logical fallacy comments are left “as is”, and can turn into a “factoid meme” which is actually false. No one offers a correction or context to the stated item.

Another commenter pointed out it was 26,500 years ago, not 15,000 years ago, when the sea was 400 feet lower. During that period, we had an Ice Age and much of Europe and North America was buried under massive ice sheets. When you see the context, you see that the first comment is an invalid argument. Yet many people may see only the first comment and may then pass that idea along to others via social media. Almost no one cross checks and verifies claims made on social media!

And how can we? We are inundated with false claims and logical fallacies through the fire hose of social media content. More information is not making us better informed – instead it is making us dumber.

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Propagandists find new way to reach Facebook users

Propagandists find new way to reach Facebook users:

Through an unknown mechanism, these junk sites are managing to get their content posted on verified celebrity Facebook pages and spread to millions of users who find themselves inundated with spam, fake news, ads, and tracking software.

Which then results in:

Facebook users who “liked’ the pages of celebrities with large followings are inundated with spam and fake news

Which is another illustration of how social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda. Indeed, the primary purpose of social media is propaganda messaging.

And then this – to which I add, Huh?

According to Matt Britton, chief executive officer of New York-based marketing technology firm CrowdTap, part of the race for readers’ attention is known as influencer marketing: a relatively new and largely unregulated area of digital advertising in which brands use celebrities or influential social media personalities to endorse products, thus encouraging fans to buy them.

“Influencer marketing” is old and in this example, it is the “celebrity endorsement” model of propaganda messaging.

Source: Misinfluencers, Inc.: How Fake News Is Reaching Millions Using Verified Facebook Accounts

Why do we play the national anthem at sports events?

Sports is entertainment.

Why do we play the national anthem at sports events?

Why do we not play the national anthem at concerts, plays and other entertainment events?

Because professional baseball, about 100 years ago sought to leverage patriotism in their marketing program – playing the national anthem at baseball games used the propaganda method of “transference” – literally transferring a feeling of patriotism to the playing of a pro sports baseball game. This was specifically to market professional baseball games.

Later, other sports adopted this marketing propaganda. Eventually it made its way to middle school and high school athletic events, but primarily football. There is rarely a band available for baseball, soccer, track, tennis, swimming and a host of other sports. Yet this practice of playing the national anthem at sports events has been ingrained in to our thinking – we no longer realize that we have been duped into a marketing charade.

I wrote about this a year an half ago in February 2016 – “How pro sports uses the national anthem for promotional propaganda“. Read it.

Sports businesses have found that linking themselves to patriotism is a successful business strategy. Why do sports teams play the national anthem at the start of each game? This is not something we do at most activities.

The reason is because it is good for business: See “Why do we sing the national anthem at sporting events?” Linking the military with pro sports began during World War I as a way of tying patriotism to sports attendance. By World War II, the playing of a recorded national anthem became common place at professional baseball games. In the 1950s, the playing of the national anthem gradually migrated to other sports.

It seems neither President Trump nor some NFL football players understand they have been duped in to becoming cogs in this propaganda machine.

Read the link and then ask yourself, “Why do we play the national anthem at selected sports events and not others? Why is sports the primary venue at which we play the national anthem?

Understanding this helps you to see the goofiness of NFL players and President Trump.

The real issue is: Why do we even play the national anthem at professional entertainment business activities (aka pro sports)?

Disaster Propaganda Part 2: Is there anything it can’t do?

This is not the Part 2 I was planning to post. Guess there will be Part 3!

Earthquakes!

A 7.1 or 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred near Mexico City. Mexico is the 7th most seismically active country due to the intersection of 3 tectonic plates. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake took place near there in 1985, causing massive destruction to Mexico City.

Big quakes in Mexico are not unusual and they cause enormous damage, deaths and injuries.

Fires!

The western U.S., and British Columbia, Canada, have seen an above normal wildland fire season. Many commenters think this is abnormal. It’s not.

2017 has been a bad fire year, to date. Yet 2 of the past ten years have burned more acreage, to date, and 4 of the past ten years have had more total fires than 2017 (to date) (from National Interagency Fire Center, as of September 15, 2017).

Going back even further, we can see that fires prior to 1950 burned vastly larger number of acres each year.

Chart from United States Forest Service

(Much of this has to do with how the U.S. did or did not fight fires at various times, and how fires are a natural part of the ecosystem. Aggressive fire suppression for decades has resulted in built up fuels.)

Hurricanes!

This year has seen the most hurricanes since  … 2005.  Then we had a 12 year drought of land falling large hurricanes. And people forgot that Florida has been hit by 119 hurricanes since 1850. Hurricanes, even large ones, are not unusual. For emphasis, here is what the scientists say.

The Solar Eclipse!

There was a solar eclipse visible in the United States, in August. Total solar eclipses occur somewhere about every two years, on average.

Pattern Matching!

People are constantly pattern matching their current experiences to create a model of how they think the world works. Not surprisingly, based on social media posts, people have concluded that

  • these events are unique and rare
  • they must be caused by something – there must be a cause so let’s find one that fits our limited world view!
  • their pattern matching has identified a pattern – that earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, the solar eclipse in August and climate change are linked together
  • Therefore, human behaviors are causing these disasters

Face palm moment.

Logical Nonsense

This illustrates how many are easily persuaded of logical nonsense.

Twitter is filled with bizarre tweets linking quakes, hurricanes, fires – and even the solar eclipse – to confirmation of human caused climate change. Yes, the eclipse caused fires! Hurricanes! Is there anything it can’t do?

I started to collect snapshots of the Tweets but there were far too many and I gave up.

Yet it is clear that many – including seemingly “smart” people – are drawing these correlations and have convinced themselves that quakes, hurricanes, fires, solar eclipses and climate change are all linked together!

Further, they believe it essential to share their nonsense propaganda with everyone on social media.

Never let a disaster go to waste!

Afterword

NBC News tried to push the “this must be unique” moment with the following:

If the problem with this silly statement is not obvious, consider the annual variance: “normal” varies between a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 28 named storms per year.

And then think about what “average” means.

Exaggerated headline: Cellphone bomb found hidden in passenger luggage

An IndiGo flight from Mangalore to Dubai was delayed on Tuesday following a major security scare when a suspicious “clay-like” item was detected by airport scanners

Source: Cellphone bomb found hidden in passenger luggage by X-ray machine at Mangalore Airport in India – Mirror Online

Read the story – they did not find a bomb. They found a crude, home made battery for a cell phone where the battery was held in place with some clay. This might actually be just a home made battery – but the conspiracy theory is that it was an “improvised explosive device” (clay does not explode!) as a trial run to test security. Or something.

Regardless, there was no cell phone bomb. The headline is fake. The item was allowed to “proceed” on to the flight.

And people wonder why the news media is viewed as untrustworthy? This is the type of story that will be shared on social media, gathering clicks and delivering eyeballs to advertising. In fact, it is the fake new business model.

Begging the question (fallacy) in propaganda messaging

“Begging the question, sometimes known by its Latin name petitio principii (meaning assuming the initial point), is a logical fallacy in which the writer or speaker assumes the statement under examination to be true. In other words, begging the question involves using a premise to support itself. If the premise is questionable, then the argument is bad.”

Source: Begging the question (fallacy) – Grammarist

This is explained by example at a conservative leaning blog:

This insidious process of begging the question is typical of totalitarian propaganda which made abundant use of expressions like “undeniably”, “unquestionably” or as “everyone knows” or their more modern equivalents like as “all decent people agree …”, “the science is settled” or “this is not who we are” to assume what must otherwise be proved. But it nevertheless compels obedience like a herd driving itself along.

This has the effect of positing a consensus which in fact may not exist.

This is the basic concept of asserting something to be true, followed by asserting that everyone already agrees (“Get on the Bandwagon” propaganda method).

This propaganda statement is extremely common as illustrated by the last item, above “this is not who we are” – this statement, often in exactly those words, was issued by United Airlines after they assaulted a paying customer, was used by Equifax after losing personal data on 143 million Americans, and is used in almost every press statement after a company has been caught doing something wrong or just plain stupid. Yet empirically, this is exactly who they are as illustrated by the event they are responding to!

Statements such as “everyone agrees” are intended to anchor you to the thought that the discussion on the topic is settled.

Is this one of the nation’s worst fire seasons?

It has been a bad fire year but some mainstream reporting is getting ahead of itself and seems more intent on providing a propaganda message. In fact, its the worst fire season since … 2015!

Propaganda:

Note the reference to “in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

And:

“worst fire seasons we’ve ever seen”?

Some news writers confused record spending with record wildfires. While there is a linkage, it is not an accurate 1:1 correlation nor is the spending inflation adjusted.

Data:

  • As of September 15th, 2 of the last 10 years burned more acres, and 4 of the last 10 years had more total fires – to date per the National Interagency Fire Center (screen snapshot taken on September 15th, 2017).

It has been a bad fire year, but 2 of the past 10 years were worse – to date – and 4 of the past 10 years had more total fires – to date. And in the context of the last 100 years, it is not unusual and not even close to being “one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

Reporting

Many news reports correctly note questions on how the nation has funded (or not funded) wildfire suppression and management. My state’s US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing since 2013 for more funding and pro-active management of forests, saying fuels have grown precipitously during a time that fires (a natural process in the west) have been aggressively suppressed.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good and lengthy explanation of the issues related to western wildland fires. If you would like to learn more, read it!

It is not fake news to say this is a bad wildland fire year, but the stories slide in that direction when marking it as one of the nation’s worst fire years. That claim is false, based on the data, above, from official government sources.

It is unfortunate that news reporters were unable to spend a few moments with Google in order to add context to their reporting.

Social media contributes to destruction, feeds upon the “culture of perpetual outrage”

Sorry for the long quote – each sentence here is meaningful to see how social media’s use as a friction-less platform for propaganda leads to lawlessness and destruction, often based on idiocy:

Josh Cobin’s story shows the strange social merging of virtual life and real life. The accusation that Trump is a fascist started as a typical bit of Twitter hyperbole, and now it stalks America in the form of a GoDaddy employee in a gas mask. To arrive at the notion that hurling things at the police isn’t attacking them, Josh had to confuse what one can get away with saying on a Reddit feed with what one can get away with actually doing on the streets of Phoenix. He looked like a cartoon figure in the online video—he bumbled his way into an online confession of his acts—in confusion about consequences offline. Joshua Stuart Cobin burned his hand because he didn’t know that recently fired tear-gas canisters really are hot, unlike the computer keyboards on which he typed his virtually hot protests against President Trump.

The glory of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. And the horror of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. Coin collectors, baseball-card enthusiasts, and used-book readers have all benefited from the opportunities offered by online connection. So have neo-Nazis, child-pornographers, and Communist agitators. Where they were once connected only by the sickly sweet smell of the ink from the mimeograph machine clumping away on the kitchen table, the forces of anger now have instantaneous links.

And that instantaneity allows a radicalizing more rapid than the world has ever seen.

Source: The Joy of Destruction | The Weekly Standard

Note “the forces of anger” reference at the end. Social media is perfectly matched to the “culture of perpetual outrage” where there is no room for intermediate perspectives, discussion, learning or compromise. It’s either my angry way or your dead!

And it works!

The rest of the article is about statues erected as memorials to (mostly) controversial figures of the Civil War era. But does a good job describing the culture of the perpetually outraged, who will bend themselves into contortions to maintain their outrage:

Social contagion does not need to be historically accurate, or philosophically wise, or even immediately practical. Why would it, when a sense of outrage lures us into mimetic rivalry and rewards agitation with a feeling of moral superiority—all delivered at the speed of the Internet? The local governments moving quickly to preempt protest may buy themselves a little time by hauling down memorials, but the protesters will soon lock on to new targets. The point of their protests, after all, is not correctly choosing what to be outraged by. The point is the outrage itself. The point, as Epictetus would have understood, is the quarrel.

Social media is the haven for the culture of perpetual outrage.